It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that many people are choosing plant-based or vegetarian diets over other forms of diets these days. In fact, a number of celebrities such as Beyonce and the Williams sisters have all become open advocates of vegetarianism. Of course, there are several reasons for this recent trend. While some follow it to attain better health, others do it for their religious convictions and concerns about animal welfare.
However, what appears to be the most attractive reason for choosing vegetarian diets by many people is the proven effectiveness of the diets in helping to maintain a healthy weight. Indeed, several studies have shown how vegetarian diets could enhance fitness for people of all ages. For instance, a 2009 study conducted at the Loma Linda University in California found that, on average, people who live on vegetarian diets had healthier Body Mass Index (BMI) than most other people.
Other studies have also found that vegetarian dieters do not only lose weight more effectively than those on conventional low-calorie diets but also improve their metabolism by reducing muscle fat. In 2016, for example, a research conducted at Harvard University revealed that after 18 weeks of observation, subjects placed on vegetarian diets lost more weight than those on non-vegetarian diets.
So, What Exactly are Vegetarian Diets?
Vegetarian diets are diets that are plant-based. Such diets consist mainly of vegetables, dried beans, peas, grains, nuts, fruits and seeds. These foods have been proven to be rich in fibre, micronutrients, and beneficial plant compounds, and tend to be lower in calories, fat, and protein than animal foods.
It is also important to know that there is no single type of vegetarian diet. Instead, vegetarian eating patterns usually fall into the following groups
- The vegan diet, which excludes all meat and animal products including diary, eggs, and honey.
- The lacto-vegetarian diet, which includes plant foods plus dairy products but excludes meats, fish, eggs and poultry.
- The lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, which includes both dairy products and eggs but excludes fish, meat and poultry.
- Ovo-vegetarian which allows eggs but excludes dairy, meat, fish, and poultry.
Moreover, eating a vegetarian diet and identifying as a vegetarian are two different things. For instance, a 2017 study discovered that ten percent of adults in the UK considered themselves vegetarian. However, only five percent actually ate a plant-based diet. The study also found that among those who avoided animal products, there were those who might not necessarily consider themselves vegetarian.
Benefits of Vegetarian Diets
The usual non-vegetarian diet is always very high in saturated fats and processed foods as well as complex carbohydrates – all of which have been proven to cause obesity and several other health challenges. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a division of the CDC, the National Center for Health Statistics, 64 percent of adults and 15 percent of children aged 6 to 19 are overweight and are at risk of weight-related ailments including heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Most of these cases are caused by living on non-vegetarian diets.
Moreover, a study conducted from 2005 to 2007 by Dean Ornish, MD, president and director of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, found that overweight people who followed a low-fat, vegetarian diet lost an average of 24 pounds in the first year and kept off that weight 5 years later. Interestingly, he found that they lost the weight without counting calories or carbs and without measuring portions or feeling hungry.
What all this implies is that being a vegetarian will certainly make you a healthier person. That is, aside from also being a contributor to a healthier environment. Studies show that vegetarians live longer than non-vegetarians. In fact, vegetarians generally have been found to have lower risks of obesity and chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. That includes vegans who steer clear of not only meat and fish, but all animal products, including dairy.
This is hardly surprising as an estimated 70 percent of all diseases, including one-third of all cancers, are related to diet. A vegetarian diet reduces the risk for chronic degenerative diseases such as obesity, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and certain types of cancer including colon, breast, prostate, stomach, lung and oesophageal cancer.
Thanks to an abundance of scientific research that demonstrates the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet, even governments are recommending that their citizens consume most of their calories from grain products, vegetables and fruits.
Tips to shed pounds on a vegetarian diet
Well, if you have become fascinated by the vegan diet already, especially in maintaining physical fitness, it will delight you to know that the following hints will be of great help to you.
- Avoiding non-starchy vegetables. Choosing high-fibre veggies, such as cauliflower, zuchinni broccoli, bamboo shoots, beans (green, wax, italians) leafy greens, and mushrooms, can help you stay full and reduce your calorie intake.
- Combining protein at every meal. High-protein vegetarian foods include beans, nuts, seeds, lentils, eggs, dairy products, and soy foods. This will keep you satiated without adding extra weight.
- Watching your portions of high-calorie foods. Pair nuts, seeds, and healthy fats with lower-calorie foods so that you don’t overeat.
- Eating mostly whole foods. Unprocessed foods, such as whole fruits and vegetables, do not have any unnecessary ingredients.
- Curbing highly processed foods. Avoid meat alternatives, frozen meals, and other ultra-processed foods, as they likely host unhealthy additives, extra salt, and added sugar.
A balanced vegetarian diet that emphasizes whole plant foods and limits refined carbs and highly processed products may help you lose weight. Still, don’t forget about other important contributors to weight loss, such as proper sleep, hydration, and exercise.
Getting the full health package
In case you are still wondering whether vegetarian diets are good for you or not, then reflect on the following benefits you can derive from the diets:
- You’ll ward off disease. As already seen above, vegetarian diets are more healthful than the usual diet, particularly in preventing, treating or reversing heart disease and reducing the risk of cancer. A low-fat vegetarian diet is the single most effective way to stop the progression of coronary artery disease or prevent it entirely. The mortality rate for cardiovascular disease is lower in vegetarians than in non vegetarians, says Joel Fuhrman, MD, author of Eat to Live: The Revolutionary Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss. A vegetarian diet is inherently healthful because vegetarians consume less animal fat and cholesterol (vegans consume no animal fat or cholesterol) and instead consume more fiber and more antioxidant-rich produce.
- You’ll live longer. If you switch from the usual diet to a vegetarian diet, you can add about 13 healthy years to your life, says Michael F. Roizen, MD, author of The RealAge Diet: Make Yourself Younger with What You Eat.“People who consume saturated, four-legged fat have a shorter life span and more disability at the end of their lives. Animal products clog your arteries, zap your energy and slow down your immune system. Meat eaters also experience accelerated cognitive and sexual dysfunction at a younger age.” Moreover, residents of Okinawa, Japan, have the longest life expectancy of any Japanese and likely the longest life expectancy of anyone in the world, according to a 40-year study of more than 600 Okinawan centenarians. Their secret: a low-calorie diet of unrefined complex carbohydrates, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, and soy.
- You’ll build strong bones. When there isn’t enough calcium in the bloodstream, our bodies will leach it from existing bone. The metabolic result is that our skeletons will become porous and lose strength over time. Most health care practitioners recommend that we increase our intake of calcium the way nature intended through foods. Foods also supply other nutrients such as phosphorus, magnesium and vitamin D that are necessary for the body to absorb and use calcium.
People who are mildly lactose-intolerant can often enjoy small amounts of dairy products such as yogurt, cheese and lactose-free milk. But if you avoid dairy altogether, you can still get a healthful dose of calcium from dry beans, tofu, soymilk and dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, collards and turnip greens.
- You’ll reduce your risk of food-borne illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that food-borne illnesses of all kinds account for 76 million illnesses a year, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths in the United States. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), foods rich in protein such as meat, poultry, fish and seafood are frequently involved in food-borne illness outbreaks.
- You’ll ease the symptoms of menopause. Many foods contain nutrients beneficial to perimenopausal and menopausal women. Certain foods are rich in phytoestrogens, the plant-based chemical compounds that mimic the behavior of estrogen. Since phytoestrogens can increase and decrease estrogen and progesterone levels, maintaining a balance of them in your diet helps ensure a more comfortable passage through menopause. Soy is by far the most abundant natural source of phytoestrogens, but these compounds also can be found in hundreds of other foods such as apples, beets, cherries, dates, garlic, olives, plums, raspberries, squash and yams. Because menopause is also associated with weight gain and a slowed metabolism, a low-fat, high-fiber vegetarian diet can help ward off extra pounds.
- You’ll save money. Meat accounts for 10 percent of usual diets food spending. Eating vegetables, grains and fruits in place of the 200 pounds of beef, chicken and fish each non vegetarian eats annually would cut individual food bills by an average of $4,000 a year.
- You’ll have more energy. Good nutrition generates more usable energy, energy to keep pace with the kids, tackle that home improvement project or have better sex more often, Michael F. Roizen, MD, says in The RealAge Diet.